Happy Hour: The Westie Cocktail
“The [Westies are the] most savage organization in the long history of New York street gangs.”
- Rudolph Giuliani, former Mayor of New York
Hyperbole aside, The Westies were a notorious gang of mostly Irish wise guys that ran the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on the Westside of Manhattan from the 1960s until the late 80s. In the 1970s and 80s, The Westies used to hang out in Hell’s Kitchen watering holes and long-gone dive bars like the Sunbrite, 596 Club, and The Skyline Motor Inn Lounge. This was the era when the “old man drink” came into existence. Hard-boiled cocktails with names like the Rusty Nail (Scotch, Drambuie, rocks) and the Harvey Wallbanger (Vodka, Galliano, orange juice) dominated the drink lexicon.
Tough guys donning wide lapelled leather jackets and stingy brimmed felt fedoras drank hard and then fleeced you harder. One of the most egregious Westie hoodlums was a debonair gent of Eire named Mickey Spillane. Spillane held court at the Hell’s Kitchen dive bars like a stately prince for almost twenty years before ending up on the wrong side of a hail of bullets. During his reign, the Italians stayed out of the Westside, the three-piece suit made a comeback, and one could still order a fancy cocktail in their local bar so long as you paid the vig on your loans. The Westie cocktail is an amalgamation of what I imagined this well dressed prince of thieves would have ordered at one of his hangouts.
The Westie cocktail came about as I worked on a cocktail for St. Patrick’s Day. I wanted to avoid green beer, green liquors, and obviously Irish names. I wanted to keep the cocktail New York to the core and use ingredients that are both commercial and unique. I imagined Mickey Spillane arriving after a long day running the rackets and asking the barkeep for a cocktail, something fancy and quick since he had reservations at Gallagher’s steakhouse. He would not be specific, just asking the barkeep to put something together from what he had behind the stick. What would he order?
“I said fancy, Pat. I’m friggin’ thirsty and yer buyin’. So think Manhattan but with some friggin vitamin C. My wife swears I’m getting scurvy dealing with you schlubs.”
“Well, um, Mickey, awls we got back here that’s fancy is Drambuie, um, Galliano, some whiskey. Um, got a lemon and some bitters too? I can figure it out Mickey.”
“The whiskeys Irish, right Pat?”
“Is there any other kind?”
“Pat, throw in a friggin cherry and I’m sold.”
The bartender grabs the iconic baseball bat silhouetted bottle of Galliano, the stub-nosed bottle of Drambuie, some of Ireland's finest brown stuff, and proceeds to free pour equal parts into a Boston shaker. He squeezes a half a lemon and dashes his seldom-used Angostura bitters before adding two fists full of ice. Pat shakes the mix back and forth while Spillane smokes one of his KOOL King menthol cigarettes down to the filter. Spillane’s crew sits near the door drinking Rheingold cans and shots of Irish whiskey. Unlike their dapper boss, the fellas are not into fancy drinks and are taking care of some business with Ruby the loan shark. More for me, thinks Mickey as Pat pours the ice-cold golden concoction into a martini glass over a bright red maraschino cherry. The self-proclaimed Gentleman Gangster lifts his drink, onyx and gold pinky ring prominently angled at ninety degrees, and takes a hearty slurp. He smiles with a twinkle in his eye. Enough said.
I updated the components in The Westie by using a small batch Irish whiskey called Redbreast 12 Year Old Pot Still Irish Whiskey and the local New York-produced bitters called Dutch’s Colonial Cocktail bitters. The Drambuie, a honey-infused scotch derivative, and Liquore Galliano L’Autentico, an Italian cousin of yellow Chartreuse, are key to the drink and balance out the citrus and potent whiskey.
Redbreast 12 Year-Old Pot Still Irish Whiskey is produced at Midleton distillery in County Cork. Redbreast is a 40% ABV (80 proof) full-bodied whiskey with tasting notes of vanilla, spice, and sherry. It is triple distilled in oak casks for at least twelve years. It is not too sweet with complex and well-balanced spiciness. Additional flavors of liquorice and honey are evident in the finish. On a historical note, the John Jameson & Sons company has been selling 12 year old Redbreast since 1912. During the past one hundred years, the production and brand has gone through multiple iterations but kept the single pot still production method as its cornerstone. It has won many awards including Malt Advocate Irish Whiskey of the Year 2011.
Liquore Galliano L’Autentico, known simply as Galliano was developed in Livorno, Italy in 1896, during what I consider the golden age of Italian liqueur innovation. The recipe remains a secret but we know that it contains 30 herbs and spice, including anise, juniper, vanilla, and lavender. The production process involves seven infusions and six distillations which results in the bright yellow product that weighs in at a hefty 42.4% ABV (84.8 proof). I chose Galliano for several reasons. First, the vanilla notes in the elixir blend well with Redbreast’s own with the anise flavor evident in the Westie’s finish. Second, Galliano was in its heyday during the reign of Mickey Spillane.
Drambuie is a golden colored honey flavored scotch liqueur with a secret recipe attributed to highland patriot Bonnie Prince Charles Stewart from 1746. According to highland lore, Prince Charles tried unsuccessfully to usurp English control over his homeland and sacrificed his secret recipe as payment for transport during his exile to France. The liqueur is derived from malt Scotch whisky, honey, and botanicals with a deceptively high 40% ABV (80 proof). Similar to Galliano, the recipe remains a closely guarded secret. The honey sweetness dominates the native liquor and adds this dimension to The Westie.
Lemon juice and the bitters bridge the diverse flavors of the spirits and temper the sweetness. Instead of Angostura, which would have been readily available during Spillane’s time, I selected a bitters with a bit more versatility given the base ingredients. Dutch’s Colonial Cocktail Bitters is a small batch, hand harvested bitters locally produced in New York. The standout flavors are lavender, allspice, cinnamon, juniper, and orange peel which blend perfectly with the components of The Westie.
The garnish and literal cherry on top is a Tillman Farms organic cherry in syrup called Badabing Cherries instead of the artificially-colored maraschino cherry. No, I did not make this brand of cherries up! Besides the perfect nomenclature for The Westie, the plump, juicy cherry maybe my new go-to cherry for other drinks. Suffice it to say, it is a delightful change from the ubiquitous Luxardo maraschino. Extra bonus: At $7 a jar, Badabing cherries are a lot cheaper than Luxardo brand ($21).
Adapted by Fredo Ceraso
0.75 oz Redbreast 12 Year Old Pot Still Irish Whiskey
0.75 oz Drambuie
0.75 oz Liquore Galliano L’Autentico
0.75 oz fresh lemon juice
3 drops of Dutch’s Colonial Bitters (or Angostura in a pinch)
Tools: Mixing tins or cocktail shaker, jigger, strainer, double strainer
Glassware: Cocktail glass
Method: Combine ingredients in mixing tins, add ice, and shake for 15-20 seconds. Double strain the mixture into a chilled cocktail glass over a Badabing Cherry by Tillman Farms.
The result is a well-balanced cocktail, which packs a punch and is tempered by the citrus and floral bitters. The Redbreast Irish whiskey is the centerpiece, with the sweetness and spice provided by the dueling liqueurs with “omerta” bound recipes. The cherry adds flair like the boutonnière on one of Mickey Spillane’s Italian silk suits.
*Got a cocktail question? Reach Fredo on twitter @loungerati, email me at fredo(at)loungerati(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below!
**Fredo Ceraso is the editor-at-large of the lounge lifestyle blog Loungerati.com. He is head cocktailian and a co-producer of The Salon parties. Fredo is a member of the USBG New York chapter and rolls drinks at many Lounge, Swing, Jazz Age, & Burlesque events in New York City.